News Watch

NRA Complicit in Abolishing NPP Operation Period Limits

After hearing Director General Matsuyama Yasuhiro of the Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy Department (Agency for Natural Resources and Energy of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)) explain METI’s point of view at a regular meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on October 5, NRA Chairman Yamanaka Shinsuke indicated a positive stance toward METI’s proposal to rescind the rule under Japan’s Nuclear Reactor Regulation Act that says for nuclear power plants (NPPs), in general “the period set forth” may be extended “only once upon the expiration thereof, not exceeding 20 years,” and limits it to special cases. Yamanaka remarked, “The operation period is a policy decision on the ideal way to employ nuclear power, and is not a matter for NRA to comment on.” Moreover, on November 2, barely a month later, he went as far as to say new regulatory system proposals were being drafted that would allow operation of NPPs in excess of 60 years for 10-year periods providing the facilities underwent inspections for deterioration and met the new regulatory standards.

Regarding METI’s proposals, which are described below, at a press conference following an NRA meeting on November 9, the same Chairman Yamanaka expressed negativity toward the exclusion of periods when operation of a reactor was suspended from the operation periods as an immediate means of extending operation past 60 years, saying “Our regulations are so-called calendar-based, and we evaluate by calendar year.”

METI Proposals for NPP Operation Period Extension Rules

METI submitted three proposals for future operation rules to the “Nuclear Power Subcommittee” panel of experts on November 8, regarding extension of NPP operation periods, which is being considered by Japan’s government. The three proposals METI submitted are 1) maintaining the current rule based on a 40-year limit with extension of up to 20 years if the NPP obtains NRA approval., 2) no upper limit on additional extensions, and 3) setting a uniform upper limit on operation periods (e.g., 20 years), while not counting periods of suspended operation resulting from “heteronomous factors” that are difficult for electric power companies to anticipate as part of the operating period.

At the meeting that day, only two people supported proposal 1), CNIC Secretary General Matsukubo Hajime and Nippon Association of Consumer Specialists Director Murakami Chisato, both of whom opposed any extensions to begin with. The other 16 committee members were nuclear power supporters from the outset, so a number of them supported proposal 3), but proposal 2) drew the most support. Nevertheless, the mass media all said that proposal 3) had the most backing. This clearly reflects METI’s intentions.

Examples of “heteronomous factors” put forward were suspension periods for meeting stronger safety regulations following the Fukushima nuclear accident and suspension periods based on provisional dispositions by courts ordering injunctions against operation.

Japan’s government is expected to set forth its new rules before year end, but many, in particular the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) faction supporting nuclear power, are seeking the abolition of upper limits on operation periods as in proposal 2).

Applications Filed for 60-year Operation of Sendai Units 1 and 2

Kyushu Electric Power Co. filed for approval from the NRA on October 12 to extend the operation periods of Sendai NPP Units 1 and 2 by 20 years. They said no problems with deterioration of the equipment had been found in the special inspections performed for the Unit 1 reactor in October 2021 and for the Unit 2 reactor in February 2022 and that the soundness of the reactors up to the 60-year point had been confirmed. The results of the special inspections, however, were examined by the Kagoshima Prefectural Nuclear Safety and Evacuation Planning Committee, who pointed out a number of issues with them. At a meeting on October 17, one committee member expressed his view that the principle of good faith had been violated due to the applications being filed before those results were made available.

Doubling of Subsidies to Municipalities that Approve NPP Restarts

METI announced on October 10 that it would expand the subsidies provided to municipalities hosting NPPs upon their restart. The maximum subsidy provided to prefectures where NPPs are located and which have been restarted in April 2022 or later will be doubled from 500 million yen to 1 billion yen, and subsidies of up to 500 million yen will also be newly provided to prefectures adjacent to municipalities hosting those NPPs. The rules for Infrastructure Development Support Project Grants for areas hosting NPPs were to have been revised by the end of October.

The same day, Commissioner Hosaka Shin of METI’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy held talks on-line with Governor Maruyama Tatsuya of Shimane Prefecture and Governor Hirai Shinji of Tottori Prefecture to tell them that they would be the recipients of the first round of the newly expanded subsidies, with up to 1 billion yen to be provided to Shimane Prefecture, which had agreed to restart Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane NPP Unit 2 reactor, and up to 500 million yen to the adjacent Tottori Prefecture.

Mission of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons to Japan

UN Special Rapporteur on Human rights of Internally Displaced Persons Cecilia Jimenez-Damary visited Japan in September, where for about two weeks she investigated the circumstances of the Fukushima nuclear accident evacuees. She presented the results of her investigation as a provisional statement at a press conference at the Japan National Press Club on October 7. The official report will be released in Geneva next June.

The provisional statement made it clear that the evacuees, “Regardless of whether or not they come from areas designated [as] areas where forced evacuation orders were enforced, are all internally displaced persons with the same rights and entitlements as citizens of Japan” and that their categorization as forced or voluntary evacuees in terms of receiving support and assistance “should therefore be dropped in practice.”

Compensation for Fukushima Nuclear Accident: Capital Repayment from TEPCO to Take as Long as until FY2064

The Board of Audit of Japan released its report on its audits of account settlements for FY2021 on November 7, 2022. In the report, the Board of Audit’s estimations revealed that the recovery of funds that had been lent in effect to Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) by Japan’s government for providing compensation for the accident involving that company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station could take as long as until FY2064. A similar estimation four years ago said it would take up to until FY2051, so the current estimation has the repayment period prolonged by 13 years. The amount of compensation TEPCO is paying to the disaster victims still has the potential to increase, and the Board of Audit notes, “The current estimation of the recovery completion date suggests the possibility of further delays in the future.”

To pay the compensation, the government borrowed money from financial institutions and loaned it in effect via the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) to TEPCO interest-free, for use in covering compensation, decontamination and other expenses. Each year, the NDF receives a “General Assessment” from each of Japan’s major electric power companies that have NPPs, plus an additional “Special Assessment” from TEPCO, and pays these funds back to the government. The interest paid by the government to the loaning financial institutions is entirely covered by taxes.

The original General Assessment and Special Assessment for the NDF’s repayments to the government have been insufficient, so the government has adopted a new idea of a “past portion” of the compensation funds that should have been secured before the nuclear accident. From FY2020, it has had the customers of Power Producer & Suppliers (new electric power businesses under Japan’s liberalized system) bear part of the burden in the form of an additional charge on power grid usage (consignment charge) by the major electric power companies. For FY2021, that additional charge came to 60.9 billion yen.

When the Board of Audit investigated the contribution charges, the General Contribution paid by each of the major electric power companies in FY2013-2020 was 163 billion yen, but in FY2021 it decreased to 133.7 billion yen. Details on this change were not released. The Special Contribution paid by TEPCO had been ranging from 50 billion to 110 billion yen per year, but in FY2021, it fell to a record low of 40 billion yen. Regarding the method for determining the Special Contribution, the Board of Audit says, “It is not clear if it meets legal criteria.”

 According to the Board of Audit, 13.5 trillion yen worth of government bonds have been issued to support TEPCO, and about 8 trillion yen of that has yet to be repaid by the NDF to the government. In addition to the General Contribution, the NDF collects the Special Contribution from TEPCO, profits from sales of TEPCO shares by the NDF and other sources of funding, and uses them to pay back the loans. The Board of Audit’s estimations of how long it will take to pay back the full amount are based on the state of these funds.

The Board of Audit bases its estimations on the assumptions that TEPCO’s business conditions and stock price will not improve as expected, that, in the case where the most time is needed, the Special Contribution will be 40 billion yen annually in and after FY2023, and that the profits from sales of TEPCO shares will only be 110 billion yen. In such a scenario, they estimate it will take 42 more years—until FY 2064—to repay the full amount.

However, the oceanic release of processed contaminated water accompanying decommissioning work is expected to commence in the spring of FY2023, and if this results in reputational damage to TEPCO, the amount of compensation it will have to pay out could increase. Moreover, since the amount of compensation ordered in the suit brought by the disaster victims and evacuees nationwide exceeds the standard based on the government’s guidelines, those guidelines may be reviewed, which could result in further increases in compensation.

Because of these factors, the Board of Audit says, “If the amount granted (loaned) by the government increases further as a result of increased compensation, the burden borne by Japan’s citizens will increase.” It is therefore asking the government to explain this to its citizens in an appropriate manner and requesting TEPCO to improve its profitability.

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